China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Public to help assess impact on environment

Source: China Daily UPDATED: 09:20, February 23, 2006

Chinese residents will be informed what will happen to their environment before a new project is launched and may offer input to a proposal as part of the project's environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Those two provisional measures on public participation in EIAs were released yesterday in Beijing by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). As the first special measures in this field, they will take effect on March 18.

The public may take part in the EIA by answering an EIA questionnaire, consulting experts, or participating in a symposium or public hearing, according to the measures.

And the project contractors are required to provide the public with details of how construction could influence the environment and what preventive measures they have taken.

In addition, as EIA reports can contain complicated language and jargon, a simplified version for the public will be supplied.

"Currently the country's EIA system mostly depends on administrative measures, but suffers a lack of a public surveillance," said Pan Yue, vice- minister of SEPA, in charge of EIA.

"Although there are some articles about the public involvement in the EIA Law, they are very ambiguous and not practical. The provisional measures just fill in the gap."

Last year, SEPA held a public hearing on Yuanmingyuan (old Summer Palace) project to cover its lake beds with impermeable covers, presumably to conserve water. To date, it has been the first and only public hearing.

"The hearing not only strengthened the awareness of the public participation, but also helped the government to improve its policy making and credibility," Pan said.

"We want to introduce the successful experiences into EIA by releasing and enforcing the provisional measures."

Wang Yongchen, founder of Green Earth Volunteers, one of the influential environmental non-governmental organizations in China, said: "I hope that the measures can be spread to every corner of China, especially in some remote areas, to wake up local people's awareness of protecting the environment."

Wang is investigating the public participation in EIA in Southwest China's YunanProvince, where a dam is planned to be built on Nujiang River. She said few local residents know about how their lives would be changed by establishment of the dam, let alone the law regarding EIA.

"It is a big step of legislation to push forward the public participation in environmental cause," said Xu Kezhu, associate professor in China University of Political Science and Law.

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